Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Hello, I'm the new girl, Lillian.
Virginia has hired me to take care of the growing Charlie Chan Library that we have here at the Annex.
I have a project that she wasn't sure would interest the readers of this blog but, being a librarian of long experience, I knew you would.
First, many of you not only enjoy reading the Chan books by Earl Derr Biggers but other authors like S.S. Van Dine's Philo Vance novels.
I'm honored to finally have a chance to bring up something that's been on my mind for some time:
Mr. Van Dine has a list in the back of "The Winter Murder Case" called "Twenty Rules for Writing Detective Stories."
This list is interesting in its own right BUT . . . going through the list, I kept thinking that the writers of the Charlie Chan movies made boo-boos that are no-nos on this list!
So Virginia has kindly lent me her blog so I can bring them to your attention and you can decide for yourselves.
* * *

The detective story is a kind of intellectual game. It is more--it is a sporting event. And the author must play fair with the reader. He can no more resort to trickeries and deceptions and still retain his honesty than if he cheated in a bridge game. He must outwit the reader, and hold the reader's interest, through sheer ingenuity. For the writing of detective stories there are very definite laws--unwritten, perhaps, but none the less binding: and every respectable and self-respecting concocter of literary mysteries lives up to them.
Herewith, then is a sort of Credo, based partly on the practice of all the great writers of detective stories, and partly on the promptings of the honest author's inner conscience. To wit:
1. The reader must have equal opportunity with the detective for solving the mystery. All clues must be plainly stated and described.
2. No wilful tricks or deceptions may be played on the reader other than those played legitimately by the criminal on the detective himself.
3. There must be no love interest in the story. To introduce amour is to clutter up a purely intellectual experience with irrelevant sentiment. The business in hand is to bring a criminal to the bar of justice, not to bring a lovelorn couple to the hymeneal alter.
4. The detective himself, or one of the official investigators, should never turn out to be the culprit. This is bald trickery, on a par with offering some one a bright penny for a five-dollar gold piece. It's false pretenses. [This was written circa 1930. Would that we could still get five-dollar gold pieces!--Lillian]
5. The culprit must be determined by logical deductions--not by accident or coincidence or unmotivated confession. To solve a criminal problem in this latter fashion is like sending the reader on a deliberate wild-goose chase, and then telling him, after he has failed, that you had the object of his search up your sleeve all the time. Such an author is no better than a practical joker.
6. The detective novel must have a detective in it; and a detective is not a detective unless he detects. His function is to gather clues that will eventually lead to the person who did the dirty work in the first chapter; and if the detective does not reach his conclusions through an analysis of those clues, he has no more solved his problem than the schoolboy who gets his answer out of the back of the arithmetic [sic].
* * *
This is Basil Rathbone as Philo Vance in
"The Bishop Murder Case," courtesy
I've always thought of this movie as his
"Sherlock Holmes in Training
Wheels" role! . . . Lillian


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